Saturday night Yoli and I cooked pizza and then we got engaged.
We’ve been planning this for a while, and I must admit to you now that I left all the details related to our engagement out of my entries for the past two weeks so it would be a surprise.
It didn’t happen exactly as we originally envisioned, but it still went well. She said yes and she’s wearing the ring, and that’s the main thing.
Let me begin at the beginning. About 2 weeks ago or so, we went to a joyero (jeweller) recommended to us by another couple who were recently engaged. We met with him and picked out an engagement ring and two wedding rings.
I wasn’t really sure what I would be expected to do in asking Yoli to marry me. I didn’t know if there was a common custom, or if her dad would expect me to first ask his permission. Yoli and I talked about it, and she came up with a good idea. Our plan was to come over on Saturday and make pizza for the whole family. Then, at some point during the meal, I would get everyone’s attention and ask Yoli to marry me.
Well, things never quite turn out exactly how you plan them.
The first problem was that I didn’t have as much money as I thought, and so we had to overcome some financial obstacles before getting the rings.
I also got another curveball from my folks when I chatted with them Thursday morning. They both strongly suggested that I get permission from Yoli’s dad. What they said made a lot of sense, and I didn’t want to insult him if he expected me to do it. I was worried, though, about my ability to communicate with him. Yoli and I talked about it later in the day and decided we did need to ask permission and that I would do it that very night.
We picked up the rings Thursday afternoon. To keep the rings a surprise, Yoli wasn’t allowed to look at them, but we did try them on her, to make sure they fit right. I really like the wedding rings. The engagement ring was not quite what I thought it would be, but it was still very beautiful.
My talk with Yoli’s parents went well. We had planned to go to Yoli’s house then go with her dad and brothers-in-law to shoot some pool. When we got there, the place was mostly empty, so I decided I probably wouldn’t have a better chance to talk with him alone. I told Don Hector I needed to talk with him, and he asked if I wanted to talk with Doña Lucila as well. I told him yes. Unfortunately, Yoli’s mom didn’t know what it was I wanted to talk about. She thought I just wanted to chat. So she spent about 15 or 20 minutes cleaning everything in sight, I suppose preparing for an evening of talk.
Sara, Yoli’s youngest sister, was also home in her bedroom (which she shares with Yoli). Yoli wasn’t to happy about that, but there wasn’t much she could do. Sara was going to overhear everything. Yoli’s nieces (Leya and Jessi) were also around, but eventually they obeyed orders and went to their room.
Finally I sat down with Don Hector and Doña Lucila and told them “Quiero pedirle permiso para casarse con su hija” (I want to ask permission to marry your daughter). They asked about our plans and such. I was able to explain myself pretty well. As usual, my trouble was understanding the things they were saying and asking me. But overall the conversation went well, and they both said they thought Yoli and I would be very happy together and gave me permission. Eventually Yoli joined us in the room and helped bail me out of my Spanish comprehension difficulties. We ended up not having time to shoot pool and decided we’d do it another night.
Sara, of course, relayed these events to most of her sisters, but I told Yoli not to worry. We could still surprise them with the engagement–after all, she wasn’t wearing the ring yet.
The days passed quickly. I had spent time preparing some words to say for Saturday night, but I ended up tossing them out. I worked with Yoli on the specific question (“Quieres casarte conmigo?” or “Do you want to marry yourself with me?”). On Saturday I mentally composed some new lines to use that night. I wanted to thank the family for all the kindness they’d shown me and explain that I had come to Bolivia for Yoli — to learn about her country, her family, her way of life…and to ask her an important question.
Eventually we made our way to Yoli’s house. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but brought some dress clothes to change into. When we arrived, we began working on the pizzas.
Yoli had made some pizza sauce a few days before hand from fresh tomatoes. I was really afraid of what it would taste like, though, because she had combined two different recipes, one of which included the word “Ketchup” in the name. My fears later proved to be completely unfounded.
Earlier in the week we had purchased the necessary ingredients — pizza crusts (orange-colored here), mozzarella cheese (expensive compared to regular Bolivian cheese, but I insisted), and thin sliced ham. To make the pizza, first we grated the mozzarella cheese. Yoli brought extra Bolivian cheese because she didn’t think we had enough mozzarella (and she was right). After we finished that, I cut the ham while she spread sauce on the first crust. Then I put on the ham and cheese, and we put it in the oven.
Our hands were a little messy and by that point, and Yoli asked if I still wanted to change clothes. I decided not to, since we had 3 more pizzas to make. So, already our plans were changing… but the biggest difference was that the family didn’t all sit down to eat together. Yoli gave a dinner call and everyone came in. We prayed and then passed out 1 slice of pizza each. The pizza tasted very good, it turned out very well. Some people stayed in the main room, Yoli’s dad and two nieces went in his bedroom to watch TV, and others went outside to eat.
This was a problem. We had thought everyone would be at a table, making it easy for me to interrupt their eating at some point and make the proposal. Instead, we were missing 4 people (Juan, Boris, Eliza, and Melanie) and were going to lose others at some point (Alcides, Lucy, and Sara wanted to go to church).
We didn’t want to leave anyone out, but it seemed clear that we weren’t going to get everyone there at the same time. So I told Yoli that she should call everyone in for the third pizza and after I cut the pizza up (using a regular knife… no pizza-cutters here), I would do my thing.
The third pizza came out, Yoli called everyone in (“Come on Alcides, please eat one more before you go….”), and I then I said in a loud voice “Su atención, por favor.” I had to get Don Hector and the nieces back in the room. I thanked the family for their hospitality in my broken Spanish and said a few more things before dropping to one knee and proposing to Yoli.
It was very special for me, and my hand trembled. Yoli was close to tears, even though she had known what would happen. I pulled the ring box out of my pocket. It was a simple plastic box, not the fancy padded clamshell type we use in the States. I had wrapped the ring in Kleenex to keep it from rattling in my pocket. We had considered “borrowing” a fancier ring box that belonged to Sara (without her knowing), but I decided not to do that.
We got the ring on, and everyone was very excited. The sisters present were making those chirping noises that girls make during such moments. Alcides was there, and seemed moved emotionally. He wished me “Felicidades” as did the others. We had succeeded in surprising everyone and making a very special memory.
Looking back, it’s incredible to me that this all worked out. I’m thankful to God for the beautiful, intelligent, helpful woman he put in my life. He’s full of surprises — Four years ago, I never would have guessed that I would one day come to the heart of South America and propose to a Bolivian woman in Spanish. But here I am!
If you have a moment, please pray for Yoli and I. Our hope is to be married in about six months, but our plans depend on how long it takes the INS to process our request for a fianceé visa. Of course between now and then there will be plans and preparations to make, and I will be looking for full-time work. We would both greatly appreciate your prayers.